Riders 19 - Eskimos 26
Just like much of my love life, the Riders' performance on Thursday can be best described as coming up inches short. Well if I'm being honest, in my case it would be many inches short and early as well... but I digress. In what seems to be becoming a theme this season, the Riders hung with one of the top teams in the league but ultimately come up short. If effort and coming close without actually accomplishing anything were worth anything we would surely be in first place... I mean sure the Stamps would be the undisputed champs of that mystical league... but yet again I digress.
The frustrating thing about that loss is that despite playing one of the best teams in the league, most of the things that contributed to the loss were self inflicted wounds. We just can't seem to get out of our own way. We had to play 1 man short because we submitted a roster with an error on it. We have an almost comical inability to convert from the 1 yard line. We went 1 for 5 in that game and even the one that succeeded was more dumb luck than good execution. We continue to deploy our players in some very curious ways (more on that later). I honestly don't think the talent gap between us and the top teams is very wide at all. The difference is that the good teams find ways to help themselves win rather than find ways to make life more difficult for themselves.
Yet again our defense put in a herculean effort (and this was despite essentially playing 2 men down for the entire game: Elam and Brouilette). They held the best player in the CFL to 250 yards passing (107 of which came off 2 passes) and a 48% completion rate. For the bulk of the game they managed to neutralize him which is no small feat. The got 4 sacks on a team that had only given up 4 total sacks all season (and could have had more if Reilly wasn't slipping away like a greased up Scotsman). They force a turnover. Sure we ultimately needed one more stop from them but I credit this unit who has done their job every single game except the Ottawa one. Nick Marshall came back with authority. Noticed him holding his hand after the Reilly TD, hopefully its nothing serious.
Offense was definitely better... not good but a big step forward. Our playbook actually appeared like it contained a second page, possibly even double sided. Collaros was poised, did not turn the football over and was apparently aware that throwing more than 10 yards downfield is legal. Duron made his presence felt... both on the scoreboard and the penalty sheet. So life's back to normal there. O-line held up alright yet again. Williams-Lambert finally stepped up amongst the non-Duron/Roosevelt WRs (I think I may have called that in my game preview). So there's hope and hopefully it will continue to improve as Collaros gets more rhythm with the group. That said we still don't have a good offense. Plays were still too often predictable. That first series could not have been more predictable if we announced it over the PA system. As previously mentioned we are just all kinds of awful when try to punch it in from the 1. No push, no effort, sloppy play, just bad. We very curiously gave Thiggy next to no reps in the second half despite the fact that he's one of our best offensive weapons. Instead it was the Mason show. He's ok but very odd not to lean on one of the only 2 offensive guys to actually locate the endzone more than once this season. And as much as it was desperation time, that last series was infuriating to watch. We need 70 yards and a TD so what do we do? 3 straight check-downs. We don't even attempt 1 deep shot. Why employ a bunch of big bodies receivers if you don't intend to use their size or even attempt to?
The lack of Thiggy wasn't the only curious personnel move we made. Why was Duron returning punts? I get that he's done it successfully before but we have a guy whose sole job that is. In fact, Coach recently said they intentionally don't involve him on O to save him for kicks. He also happens to be one of the top returners in the CFL. I'm also about done with Mason on returns. He seems to mishandle a lot of them. Plus he is at best our 4th best returner behind Jones, Thigpen and Duron.
We have now progressed to a team with an Elite D and a not completely awful O. We know we can compete with the best teams in the West. But if we don't start actually turning that into wins we will quickly find ourselves out of the picture in the West.
Other random thoughts:
- TSN caught some great footage of both coaches in a very candid moment on the sidelines. They showed that Jones does indeed smile and have a personality with this hilarious exchange. And also showed further proof that Maas is a childish, snap case who has an odd hatred of Gatorade jugs with this even more hilarious encounter.
- Now that Caleb Holley isn't around to hate on, I find myself not liking Shaq Evans very much. Is it just me?
- I had to Google the origins of the "close but no cigar" expression after using it in the title. Turns out carnivals used to give out cigars as prizes in the 19th Century. There's your useless piece of knowledge for the day.